November 19, 2002
The British educational Raj

Quoting yourself is about as crass and uncool as it is possible to get when blogging, but I can't put my point now better than I put it yesterday morning:

Actually, I don't think that the changes needed can come from the official system at all. I think it goes to the state of mind of the consumer/victims of it all. Do these people – parents and children (especially children) - decide that they're consumers, or that they're victims? That's what matters.

Yes, that is what matters, to me anyway, and it explains something that has been puzzling me.

Whenever, during the last few days, I needed (like a school teacher bluffing together tomorrow morning's lesson late the night before) to say something in a hurry about "education", I would trawl through google and through a few of the other edu-blogs, and above all through the regular electronic news services, looking for current "education stories". And up would come university funding rows, and national bullying guidelines, and national teachers' prizes, and national this and national that, and I would struggle to stay interested.

The UNESCO stuff gets my active attention, because if that gets going it will make the education of humans on this planet an order of magnitude worse (certainly a hell of a lot more expensive) even than it is already. But the national stuff, or at any rate the British national stuff? I mostly can't make myself care about it.

I think I now know why. Like the British national public sector in general, the British educational national public sector has had the stuffing knocked out of it over the years. It has lost its Will to Power. It is merely going through the motions, not because it believes in going through those motions, merely because it can't think what else to do. The British public sector has entered its decadent phase, the redoubling-your-efforts-when-you've-forgotten-your-aim phase.

Accordingly, if faced with a fierce conviction that there is a far different and far better way to do things educational, the British national public sector will retreat in confusion.

At present there exists no national counter-conviction of this sort. The general public of Britain are just as much a part of this decadent phase as any politician or education bureaucrat. The public also can mostly only think of "them" spending more money and enacting yet more rules and regulations and installing yet more committees and safeguards and guidelines and statutory obligations. And, it claps when prizes are awarded to any teacher seems to have retained the ability and willingness to keep on navigating through this ever-accumulating mess and is managing still to get some real teaching done.

The situation reminds me of a remark attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, or at any rate said by Ben Kingsley as Gandhi in the movie of that name, to the effect that it is "simply impossible for millions of Indians to be ruled a few thousand Englishmen unless the millions of Indians allow themselves" so to be ruled. Something like that.

That's how I feel about education. Some power structures are strong, viciously imposed, sure of themselves, and those ones have to be clandestinely criticised, and in due course attacked by force of arms and meanwhile resisted by force of arms, if they are ever to be destroyed. Gandhian pacifism doesn't work against a regime which, unlike the British Raj, shoots demonstrators dead, in whatever numbers the demonstrators choose to present themselves.

But the British education monster is not now like that. British education is not Nazi Germany, however much its libertarian critics are sometimes tempted by its routine horrors to shout out that it is. If you are, say, a fourteen year old English boy, and you have a clear idea of what next you want to do with your life, then the changes are that you can now do it. Civil disobedience - in the form of the refusal to do what they (which may even include your own parents) want, and the determination to do what you want – is really quite likely to work, provided you give serious thought to the tactics you are using, targetting your nastiness with care and also using lots of politeness and incidental concessions on issues that don't matter to you, in short provided that your disobedience really is civil.

Stubborn parents, full to the brim with Will to Power, would, I admit, be a serious problem. But most parents, in Britain now, aren't like that either. They too will defer to a strongly held, rationally argued plan.

All of which means that the state of mind of the victims is what matters. The latest bumblings of the compulsory-by-default system just don't matter nearly so much.

Expect more on this.

My next posting will be a down-to-earth piece about some actual teaching that I have actually done. Promise.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:05 PM
Category: Politics
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